For those of you tuning in on Saturday afternoon — game time is set for at 3:30 p.m. ET on NBC — you’ll meet the newest member of Notre Dame’s broadcast team.
Kathryn Tappen joins Dan Hicks and Mike Mayock from the sidelines this season, joining the NBC Sports team from the NHL Network, where she served as the network’s lead studio host.
A former Academic All-American athlete at Rutgers, Tappen isn’t completely new to the network. She worked with NBC in Sochi at the 2014 Olympics, hosting men’s and women’s hockey. Before that, she spent five years at NESN, covering the Patriots, Celtics, Red Sox and Bruins.
Tappen will be busy in her new job. In addition to Notre Dame, she’ll contribute to the Sunday Night Football broadcast, work the Super Bowl and join the studio team for NHL Live and NHL Overtime.
Busy prepping for her debut on the sidelines for Notre Dame, Tappen was nice enough to catch up with me before the season begins.
What drew you to the opportunity to work Notre Dame football Saturdays?
The conversations between NBC started right around the Olympics, and it was a lot of hockey talk and discussions about how the role would fit with me at NBC. The opportunity to do Notre Dame sidelines was eventually presented, and I was excited at the thought to be a part of such a historic football program on the network that’s been broadcasting Irish football for 25 years.
The production quality, the broadcasters, Mike Mayock, Dan Hicks, Doug Flutie, the pregame crew, it’s a tremendous broadcast and to even be considered to be a part of it was a huge honor for me.
I love being around football. I have been soley around the NHL the past three years, but prior to that I had covered the New England Patriots and college football teams in New England, so I’m familiar with the game and I enjoy being around it.
As someone experiencing Notre Dame for the first time, what’s that been like?
The history, the tradition and the team at Notre Dame. It’s an amazing place. I was out there for the first time in early August and I just couldn’t get over, not just the campus itself, but the great people that work around that program. It’s going to be really exciting come August 30 when the season starts.
I imagine you’ve had to do your homework, too. How have you spent the weeks leading up to the season?
It’s a lot of preparation. In the past, I’ve just watched college football Saturdays as a fan, so I haven’t exactly honed in on the specifics of the Notre Dame program. Now it becomes preparing for an upcoming season in which you are no longer watching as a fan. My responsibility will now be to help educate the fan both on the Notre Dame side and their weekly opponent. where you’re covering all the home games for a Notre Dame season and then the opponents.
After the NHL season ended, I took a little bit of time away with my family and friends, and then the last couple of weeks have been all about preparation. The visit out to Notre Dame, and to Michigan, was huge, as I got to put faces to names that I’ve been reading about, and they’ve been able to see me.
I’m just trying to totally submerge myself. Not just about Notre Dame, but about the whole college football spectrum heading into the season.
This isn’t your first time jumping into something new. How does your experience with the NHL help you?
That’s what gives me confidence going into the season. As many nerves as there are getting used to a new program like Notre Dame, I can take a step back and remember where I was in 2007 when I got assigned to the Boston Bruins broadcast working for NESN. At the time, it was four days before the start of the Bruins season.
I had to totally shift gears in a short amount of time. And what I really did was lean on my analysts. I sat and I listened for an entire season and I asked a lot of questions. That’s what I did with Mike Mayock and Doug Flutie and our producers when I sat in on practice in South Bend.
Just trying to ask questions and familiarize myself. The biggest difference is that I have prior experience covering football and watched it as a kid. I understand it way better than I understood the NHL before I started with the Bruins.
What were your first impressions of Brian Kelly and the Notre Dame program?
He was tremendous. It was a very cold rainy day at Notre Dame. We were there for double sessions and on the field all day long. He was great. He cracked some jokes with me. Obviously he’s a big Boston fan, growing up there, so we were able to have a little bit of common interest there.
He was very accommodating. Everyone at Notre Dame has welcomed me with open arms. I know that I need to earn the respect of everybody in that organization, but they’ve at least given me the opportunity to do so.
Before you were a broadcaster, you were a collegiate athlete. How do you think that helps you in your current job?
I ran cross country, indoor and outdoor track and field, at Rutgers. So it was a three-season sport. I redshirted my freshman year because of a back injury, but other than that I was ready to go. I loved it. I would not trade my experience as a college athlete for anything in the world. I met so many great people, and I still have contacts in the business whom I met through my athletic program at Rutgers. My former teammates and friends from other teams at Rutgers I’m close with to this day.
Over the years of covering professional sports, it doesn’t come up a lot. Those guys are on a totally different level, some of them have worked 12-15 years in the professional ranks. A lot of the times it wasn’t really brought up that I was an athlete myself.
However now that I’m covering college again, I was actually amazed at how many times people brought it up in the couple of days that I was at Notre Dame. Just being a part of that atmosphere, being around student-athletes, it reminded me so much of when I was at school, and what our training programs were like in cross country in late August, when we had two sessions a day as well. You were always eating together, laughing together, training together and getting ready for the school year. It was great.
I started to feel a little bit like I was back at college. I was definitely able to take a step back and say wow, this was me not all that long ago. I think having that collegiate athletic experience under my belt gives me a better understanding of what’s happening off the field, not just on the field, for the players.